Two Judges trapped inside a tower block on lock down. A tower block packed to the rafters with murderous inhabitants and overlooked by a maniacal overlord. The only option the Judges have is to go up, headlong into the violence that awaits them.
Sound familiar? Sounds like Dredd the movie doesn’t it? But it isn’t. This is Judge Dredd Under Siege, a new comic from IDW.
Although the basic premise is the same as the movie there are a number of differences that separate the two stories. The most obviously of which is that the villains of this piece are mutants, streaming in from the Wastelands. This allows Mark Russell, writer, and Max Dunbar, artist, to create some outlandish visuals and really play with the sci-fi elements of the Dredd universe. The movie was very ridged with a realistic aesthetic but Under Siege is more comical with a strong emphasis on the humour.
Max Dunbar draws a solid Judge Dredd, strong and powerful, which are also characteristics he fuses to his rendering of the Patrick Swayze Tower; the setting for the story. It is a massive, phallic symbol, highly detailed in each panel. The over bearing setting creates the tension in the opening pages which helps to detract from the ridiculousness of the mutants when they are finally introduced. The four armed, knife wielding maniac would be more ludicrous if it hadn’t been for the tone which had already been set. In fact, it’s almost a relief from the oppressiveness of the opening.
There is a juxtaposition between the comedy and violent underlying narrative. This is something that has defined Judge Dredd from the early days of 2000AD and Mark Russell handles the mix very well. There are some disturbing scenes but also some laugh out loud moments. Russell manages to make the transition from one moment to the next work without spoiling the joke or undermining the serious message a particular story element is portraying.
The imposing atmosphere that is essential for the narrative of this comic is mostly achieved through the colouring by Jose Luis Rio. He gives the Judges a bold colouring which stands out from the gloom that permeates the tower block setting. This grimness invites trepidation and is the overall feel of the comic until the violence starts. When this starts, the colours become brighter, more over the top like the violence itself.
Simon Bowland expertly places the speech and voice over text, of which there is a lot, in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the art or interfere with the atmosphere created by Dunbar and Rio. This is no easy task when trying to create a heightened sense of tension in a situation. A number of horror comics fail to achieve the atmosphere they aim for because the text destroys the mood of the images, but not here. Bowland makes subtle changes to the speech balloons to make it easy to tell who is talking and he also places them in a way that draws the reader to the focal point of the panel. This means that you are drawn to where the writer and artist want you look even after consuming the speech; this makes it difficult to skip through the pages without picking up on the mood so no matter how fast you read it, you still get the sense of intimidation.
The only real problem with this first issue is with the main villain, Talleyrand. Although barely featured in the comic itself, his presence is felt and doesn’t leave the best of impressions. The problem with the character is that he is a poor copy-cat of Lena Headey’s character from Dredd. He sits on his throne, lording it over his minions; he even has a maintenance worker to help him take control of the tower. Talleyrand is Ma-Ma but without the expert character portrayal by Headey. This over familiarity weakens the character and his impact on the story. Ultimately, the Tower and the Mutants pose a threat to Dredd and Beeny but Talleyrand does not.
Judge Dredd Under Siege has a familiar story, with some aspects a bit too familiar, but overall it is an enjoyable read. The script jumps effortlessly from serious drama to comical indulgence and back again without losing its audience. The artwork builds an impressive atmosphere and the narrative is an addictive page turner. If you enjoyed the Dredd movie you will love Under Siege.
Judge Dredd Under Siege
Published by IDW
Written by Mark Russell
Drawn by Max Dunbar
Colours by Jose Luis Rio
Letters by Simon Bowland